Galarrwuy Yunupingu

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Galarrwuy Yunupingu

Born (1948-06-30) 30 June 1948 (age 72)
Melville Bay, Northern Territory, Australia
Known forPolitics, music
Movement Aboriginal land rights in Australia
Parent(s) Mungurrawuy Yunupingu
Relatives Mandawuy Yunupingu
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Djalu Gurruwiwi (brother-in-law)
"Gurindji Blues"
Single by Galarrwuy Yunupingu
B-side "The Tribal Land"
LengthIntroduction by Vincent Lingiari1:06
Gurindji Blues – 2:30
Label RCA Victor 101937
Songwriter(s) Ted Egan
Producer(s) Ron Wills

Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM (born 30 June 1948) is a leader in the Aboriginal Australian community, and has been involved in the fight for Land Rights throughout his career. He is a Yolngu man of the Gumatj clan, from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. He was the 1978 Australian of the Year.


Early life and education

He was born at Melville Bay near Yirrkala on 30 June 1948, and is a member of the Gumatj clan of the Yolngu people. [1] He attended the Mission School at Yirrkala in his formative years, and moved to Brisbane to study at the Methodist Bible College for two years, returning to Gove in 1967. [1]

Land rights

In the early 1960s, with his father, Gumatj clan leader Mungurrawuy, he entered the struggle for Land Rights, and helped draw up the Bark Petition at Yirrkala. He came to national attention in the late 1960s for his role in the landmark, but unsuccessful Gove Land Rights Case. This legal action was the first by Indigenous Australians to challenge mining companies' rights to exploit traditional lands. He became a prominent leader and strong voice on behalf of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and Australia, gaining respect and admiration from many. In 1969 he was elected to the Yirrkala town council.

In 1975 he joined the Northern Land Council (NLC), the authority appointed under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act of 1976 to represent traditional Aboriginal landowners and Aboriginal people. He was chairman of the NLC from 1977–80, an executive member until 1983 when he was re-elected as chairman. He has led a number of negotiations with mining and government bodies. [1]

As chair of the NLC, he led the Gagudju people in negotiations with mining and government bodies. Not opposed to mining in principle, Yunupingu sees it as a way for Aboriginal people to escape the welfare trap if it is conducted on the traditional owners' terms. These include a fair distribution of the economic benefits and respect for the land and specific sacred sites. He said: "We will continue to fight for the right to make our own decisions about our own land." [1]


In 1978 he was named Australian of the Year for his negotiations on the Ranger uranium mine agreement. [2] He said the award 'would help him to shake off the image of ratbag and radical' and would give him 'greater strength as an individual and as a leader'. It was also a recognition for Aboriginal people as 'the indigenous people of this country who must share in its future'.

In 1985, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to the Aboriginal community. Galarrwuy Yunupingu is one of 100 "Australian Living National Treasures" selected by the National Trust of Australia as leaders in society "considered to have a great influence over our environment because of the standards and examples they set".

In 2015, at the Garma Festival, he was honoured by the University of Melbourne with an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.). In a statement, Professor Margaret Sheil, Provost at the University of Melbourne, said the Honorary Doctor of Laws award to Yunupingu was to recognise and celebrate the significance of his work for Indigenous rights. She said, "The Honorary Doctor of Laws is the University's highest academic honour. ... Dr Yunupingu's relentless struggle for land rights and advocacy for the agency of his people have profoundly advanced the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout Australia. ... Dr Yunupingu has received the award of the Doctor of Laws honoris causa in recognition of the fire he has lit that will blaze ever brighter until Indigenous people secure their self-evident rights to property, their own way of life, economic independence and control over their lives and the future of their children." [3]

In May 2017 Yunupingu was one of three Indigenous Australians, along with Tom Calma and Lowitja O'Donoghue, honoured by Australia Post in the 2017 Legends Commemorative Stamp "Indigenous leaders" series to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum. [4]

Return to public life

Yunupingu has kept a low profile since the 1980s. In 2007 he spoke about the need for action in reducing Indigenous poverty. In reference to the Howard government's intervention he said "The intervention was an incomplete process about which he would reserve his judgement until he knew what was working and what wasn't." In 2009 he spoke out against the inability of the government to provide adequate housing. [5] [6]

As of early 2009, he continued to live near Yirrkala, fulfilling his role a senior ceremonial leader and community elder. He continues to hold numerous positions on committees and organisations where he can share his wide experience with other Australians and promote the aspirations of his people. [7]

In January 2010 he spent time in hospital after collapsing in a bank in Nhulunbuy. [8] In late 2016, he had a kidney transplant. [9]

In November 2019, it was announced that Yunupingu would be one of 20 members of the Senior Advisory Group to help co-design the Indigenous voice to government set up by Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians. The Group is co-chaired by Wyatt, Marcia Langton and Tom Calma. [10] [11]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 "Inside the NLC – Council Members – Galarrwuy Yunupingu, AM". Northern Land Council. Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  2. "AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM". Australia Day Council. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  3. Garma Festival 2015: Galarrwuy Yunupingu awarded honorary doctorate by University of Melbourne, ABC News Online, 1 August 2015
  4. "Australian Legends 2017: Indigenous Leaders". Australia Post Collectables. 29 May 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  5. Waldon, Steve (27 October 2007). "Yunupingu returns to the fray, keen to get results, not symbols". The Age. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  6. Robinson, Natasha (12 August 2009). "Yunupingu loses faith in intervention". The Australian. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  7. Clayfield, Matthew (2 January 2009). "Galarrwuy Yunupingu's radical voice for action". The Australian. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  8. "Galarrwuy recovering". NT News. 25 January 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  9. Lawton, Paul (11 January 2018). "Not all doctors agree my patient deserved his kidney transplant. They're wrong". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  10. "Voice Co-Design Senior Advisory Group". Ministers Media Centre. 8 November 2019. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  11. Remeikis, Amy (8 November 2019). "Chris Kenny added to group working on Indigenous voice to parliament". the Guardian. Retrieved 1 February 2020.

Further reading